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Speech-Language Pathologist Named Innovator of the Year for Her Work on Swallow Rehabilitation Device with Trudell Medical International

Dr. Ruth Martin has been named the Vanguard Awards Innovator of the Year from WORLDiscoveries for her work to develop and market the ABILEX* oral exerciser ( The device is designed to help patients who have difficulty with swallowing and oral control caused by conditions such as stroke, brain injury, cancers of the mouth and throats, Parkinson’s disease, apraxia, and dysarthria.


A speech-language pathologist (SLP), Martin is the Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Programs in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western University in London, Ontario. The idea stemmed from her early work in neuro-rehabilitation providing therapy to patients who had challenges with oral control and difficulty swallowing. With limited resources available to retrain the tongue and brain, therapy would progress slowly and with difficulty.


Swallowing problems, known medically as dysphagia, are linked with malnutrition, depression, and reduced quality of life and can also lead to aspiration – when food or saliva is inhaled – which can cause pneumonia and other health complications. [1] People with dysphagia will spend more time in the hospital and are at greater risk of morbidity in rehab settings. [2]


Dr. Martin carried these experiences into her research lab where she investigated the relationship between brain stimulation and swallowing rehabilitation. Martin had the idea for a physical therapy device that would allow patients to exercise their tongues, lips, and jaws while also retraining the parts of their brains associated with swallowing.

To help bring the idea to market she turned to London-based medical device leader Trudell Medical International. The device needed to be lightweight and malleable to enable muscle movement even if patients had little control, while also providing enough resistance for tongue strength exercises. Deceptively simple looking, the final design was the product of many prototypes and user evaluations. With a handle on one end and a soft bulb connected by a tether on the other, the device was designed to be placed in the mouth where patients would use their tongue and lips to manipulate the bulb to improve tongue and lip strength, build coordination and practice swallowing. The oral physical therapy was designed to encourage rewiring of the brain to help patients relearn lost skills.

“The ABILEX* device represents the innovative capacity of Western University in healthcare, collaborating with our excellent hospitals and a pioneering industry partner,” Dr. Martin said.


Dr. Martin’s passion for innovation in patient care has given speech language pathologists and patients a new option in their daily struggles with swallow rehabilitation and aspiration prevention. ABILEX* device has been used in hospitals and rehabilitation centers to enable patients to independently complete daily exercise sessions to increase the amount of therapy time they receive while in care, an important factor in swallow rehabilitation.[3]

“The Vanguard Awards, which culminate with the Innovator of the Year Award, recognizes those individuals who, like Dr. Ruth Martin, took a risk on an idea they believed in and charted new scientific territory in their respective field," said Lisa Cechetto, executive director of WORLDiscoveries. "This takes courage, passion and persistence. WORLDiscoveries and Western University applaud those members who are helping to bring new innovations to market for the betterment of society.”


The ABILEX* device is a multi-functional oral exerciser designed to help improve swallowing function and oral control through improving tongue and lip strength, building tongue coordination, generating oral awareness, and enabling safe practice of swallow skills. ABILEX* device is designed to encourage exercise independence and compliance by empowering patients through active therapy participation and with stimulation from tactile feedback. It helps patients translate typical exercises into tangible tasks and can be used from early intervention in the hospital to home-based care.

ABILEX* device is manufactured by Trudell Medical International, a company who for over 95 years has designed, developed, manufactured, and distributed a wide range of medical devices.

ABILEX* device is available in Canada, United States, and parts of Europe. For more information visit or contact Shae Sartori, ssartori(at) (1-866-337-3301).

1) Cichero, Julie AY, and Kenneth W. Altman. "Definition, prevalence and burden of oropharyngeal dysphagia: a serious problem among older adults worldwide and the impact on prognosis and hospital resources." Stepping stones to living well with dysphagia. Vol. 72. Karger Publishers, 2012. 1-11. 2) Altman, Kenneth W., Gou-Pei Yu, and Steven D. Schaefer. "Consequence of dysphagia in the hospitalized patient: impact on prognosis and hospital resources." Archives of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery 136.8 (2010): 784-789. 3) National Center for Evidence-Based Practice in Communication Disorders. ASHA NOMS: Adults in Healthcare. 2017    

WORLDiscoveries is a registered trade-mark of the University of Western Ontario. *ABILEX* is a trade-mark or registered trade-mark of Trudell Medical International.

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